Friday, December 28, 2012
Rejected Parents: Learning not to forget
Rejected Parents often feel taken aback when their children deny recalling their fun times and loving experiences with one another. It is as though the positive never occurred, that the relationship was just one bad moment after another. If enough time passes, the children may say the relationship was never important: “It doesn’t seem like I had a father at all.” “I don’t recall my mother ever having a real place in my life.” It’s hard to comprehend.
But one father recently gained insight about his children’s changed reality about him—and themselves. He noted that he felt so confused by his children’s rejection that he lost track of his contributions as a father. He wondered if he had been a good father, if his prior picture of himself as attentive and loving was not real, if his children's portrayal of him as self-absorbed and uninvolved was accurate. The self-doubt triggered by his children’s rejection caused him to question his identity as a father: “Maybe I was never a good father, maybe I wasn’t who I thought I was or as involved as much as I recall. Maybe we were never close.”
This father regained his bearings when he spoke to neighbors and relatives and viewed family photos. They reminded him of the activities he shared with his children, their weekends together, the family outings, and the school events he attended. The common response from others was: “Don’t you remember the times that…?” But until their recollections and the photos reminded him, he didn’t. And with this realization, recognizing how thoroughly disoriented he had become, even with an adult’s maturity, he gained a better understanding of how vulnerable his children had been to becoming similarly disoriented.
But why? How does this happen? You might find one answer if you listen and watch a family interact as it goes about its day. You will notice that family members tell stories, a lot of stories. Sometimes in just a sentence or two, sometimes as a shared narrative. They relate incidents from the past, tease one another about prior missteps, remind one another about “the time that we…” In effect, family members do naturally what this father prompted from his neighbors—smoothly and naturally reminding one another through stories and recollections of their shared experiences and bonds. The stories bring forward to the present what is important and binding from the past. Absent these continual reminders, the past can become distant, something no longer recalled, no longer part of present experience, no longer part of the present narrative of what it means to be a family.
We encourage Rejected Parents to do the same thing with their children that this father did with his neighbors—bring out pictures of happier times, tell stories, reminisce. One rejected parent and the four children, for example, spent two months in therapy eating pizza and telling stories about past meals—thereby reaffirming that they were, indeed, a family.